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Rewind to 2013: Proposed House bill would allow adjacent landowners to acquire state land

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A proposed House committee bill being considered Thursday would require state park managers to allow “low-impact agriculture” on parks and allow adjacent landowners to acquire state land.

The House State Affairs Committee, meeting at 1 p.m. today, will consider proposed committee bill SAC 15-02.

In 2013, HB 33 by state Rep. Jimmie T. Smith, a Republican from Lecanto, also would have allowed an individual or corporate landowner to acquire state land by asking the Cabinet to approve a swap for a conservation easement on a portion of the private land.

A conservation easement usually restricts or prohibits development on the land. Under the bill, the landowner would keep possession of both his or her land and the state land with a conservation easement on both.

However the bill, which faced opposition from environmental groups, died after passing one committee while the Senate companion bill never was heard in committee.

The proposed committee bill this year is nearly identical to 2013 legislation, Eric Draper of Audubon Florida said Thursday. The bill also requires state land managers to consider low-impact agriculture, which is not defined in the bill, to be a land management goal.

“It’s objectionable to add agriculture uses as equivalent uses for parks with recreation and wildlife habitat,” Draper said. Sierra Club Florida also is opposing the bill.

Draper said Audubon Florida is going to recommend removing state parks and preserves from the bill.

“That only represents 700,000 acres of the land they are talking about,” Draper said. “That should be an easy thing to do.”

State Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Republican from North Fort Myers who is chairman of the State Affairs Committee, was not immediately available for comment.

The proposed committee bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection at least every 10 years to review all state-owned lands to determined whether any can be sold.

DEP’s review in 2013 initially identified 5,330 acres for possible sale. But it dropped the review effort after the list prompted an outcry from environmental groups and residents living near what they thought was preserved land.

Under the proposed committee bill, the department also must determine whether any support low-impact agricultural uses while maintaining the land’s conservation purposes.

The bill also requires the department to add to its SOLARIS state lands database local government and private property that is under conservation easements or otherwise has had its developments rights transferred.

The proposed committee bill comes after voters in November approved Amendment 1, which will provide an estimated $22 billion over 20 years for water and land conservation. Environmental groups have criticized legislators for ignoring land-acquisition in their 2015-16 state budget proposals.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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